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Local Elections : Heavily Favored Whittier Incumbents Ensure Edge With Money

March 16, 1986|STEVEN R. CHURM | Times Staff Writer

WHITTIER — By all accounts, the three candidates challenging Councilmen Gene H. Chandler and Victor A. Lopez in the April 8 election are long shots:

One is a community activist who believes that trolley-type buses are the answer to public transportation troubles. Another is a college dental student, and the third is a retired chauffeur who filed his candidacy papers at City Hall wearing a Superman outfit.

Nonetheless, Chandler, 62, and Lopez, 57, will probably outspend their opponents nearly 30 to 1 to ensure their reelection. And the two incumbents acknowledge that the combined $8,500 they plan to spend on signs and newspaper advertising is half of what it would have cost had the race been more competitive.

"Unfortunately, in this day and age, you have to spend money to encourage voters to get out and go to the polls," said Chandler, a retired telephone company executive who has lived in Whittier for 26 years and is seeking his second term on the council.

" . . . One can't run in a race and spend nothing," he said. "There is a danger of being surprised."

'Uphill' Fight Foreseen

Maybe. But even one of the challengers, Joe Marsico, the 43-year-old trolley buff, admitted it is an "extremely steep, uphill" fight to unseat the incumbents.

The other challengers are Romana Pokorny, a student at Rio Hondo College, and Clifford Slater, 55, a disabled veteran who says he ran a limousine service for 33 years before retiring a few years back. Slater is often seen around Uptown Village wearing a leprechaun or Superman costume, which he says he does to give joy to others.

Those serving on the five-member council receive a monthly stipend of $413.

Lopez, who is seeking his third council term, and Chandler contend that the city is on a roll, largely because of redevelopment in the Uptown Village area and along Whittier Boulevard on the city's western side.

Since redevelopment moved into high gear in the late 1970s, city officials estimate, $26.8 million worth of new construction has occurred in the Uptown Village area. The biggest project is the $13.5-million Whittier Hilton, an eight-story, 200-room facility which opens this week.

"A lot of cities have tried economic revitalization and it has failed," said Lopez, who was born and raised in Whittier and later worked in the local high school district as a teacher, coach and administrator. He retired four years ago and now works part time with one of his sons who runs a diamond cutting business in Whittier.

'City Is Going Places'

"The completion of the Hilton caps off eight years of successful redevelopment," he said. "That hotel is going to provide 150 jobs and will attract other businesses. . . . This city is going places."

Chandler, who said he expects to spend no more than $5,000 on the race, said he decided to run again to build on the experience gained during his first term on the council.

"It takes a term just to get your feet on the ground," he said. "To abandon the office after one term would be a waste."

During a second term, Chandler said, his top priority would be the extension of Hadley Street to Colima Road, a two-mile project that could cost $20 million, according to some estimates. Hadley now ends east of Painter Avenue as it climbs into the Puente Hills.

Chandler said extending Hadley to Colima would ease congestion on Colima, a heavily traveled north-south thoroughfare linking the San Gabriel Valley with Whittier and other cities in the county's southeast corner. Commuters who use Colima to cross the hills could then use Hadley as an alternate route.

Extending Hadley, Chandler said, might also be an economic boon for the city. Because the street skirts the north end of Uptown Village, he said, extending Hadley to Colima would make it easier for shoppers from Hacienda Heights, La Puente and Rowland Heights to reach the business district.

Marsico, who has run for council twice before, is running largely on a single issue: the city's $1-million bus system, which began operation last July with Proposition A money, a half-cent transit tax the county collects and divides among its cities. Four buses run along 22 miles of city streets Monday through Friday.

Marsico wants to replace the city buses with ones that look like turn-of-the century trolleys. He contends the diesel-powered trolley buses are safer and more efficient than the mini-buses now in operation. Whittier could purchase a fleet of 15 trolley look-alikes, he said, for what it costs the city to maintain its four buses.

"The whole bus system is corrupt, from the original contract to the buses themselves," said Marsico, a former pool maintenance man who said he quit his job several years ago to pursue community causes full time. He has spent the better part of five years trying to win support for his trolley bus plan.

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